If you'd told me five years ago that I would contemplate taking off my Batman underroos in front of strangers, I would've told you you were nuts.
But last week I went to College and Spadina to pick up a Web camera, brought it home and set it up on my laptop. Blip. This image of me popped up in a window - I waved and she waved back. We grinned at each other. This could mean big money.
My fascination with sex chats began when I was 13. I used to call up telephone cruise lines - Telepersonals, Night Exchange, you name it. My thrill was making up new identities and playing on them. I was fascinated by the fetishes people would reveal - socks, pies and the like. Then we'd hang up. No harm done.
Fast forward to two months ago. For the first time, I had difficulty paying my bills. It's expected territory for a freelance writer, but still I felt uneasy. I leafed through the back of newspapers and noticed a help wanted ad for "webcam models," otherwise known as Internet adult chat hosts. I was intrigued by the recreational aspects of this, but even more so by the claim that I could make up to $3,000 a week. Even if it wasn't true, I reasoned, at least it would beat working a retail job for $9 an hour.
The more I toyed with the idea, the more seriously I took it. I may look small and quiet, but I'm certainly not afraid to be an exhibitionist. I started plotting out who I'd like to work for. The majority of these companies only provide a first name and a cellphone number. Way too sketchy for my liking.
So I came up with a set of rules: 1. No working out of a studio. 2. No doing anything I don't feel like doing. 3. No touching. 4. No letting my image be captured on the Internet in anything resembling Girls Gone Wild videos.
Through a Google search, I found a site that looked pretty legit. Greece-based Streamate.com lets you work from home, set your rate per minute (from 99 cents to $4.99) and your own schedule. It has online "performer agreement" forms that you fill out and e-mail to get you started.
I'm filling out the application, all giddy thinking about what I can put on my profile. Maybe think up a clever pseudonym. What are my secret skills? "I can wear out three Hitachi Magic Wands before their warranties are up." Yup, classy with a "K."
Things are going well until I realize they want me to mail the form with a photocopy of my driver's licence or passport as proof of age. And then what? They want my SIN number? All of sudden, the anonymity of being some random camgirl is crushed, and it hits me that this company could have me on file for years to come. That's not reassuring, especially if I want to be a respected journalist sometime in the future. Not to mention my parents disowning me.
But the greedy part of me can't ignore the flashy dollar signs shining from my monitor. On one site, LiveCamNetwork.com, there are three kinds of chat rooms: free chat where anyone can register with an e-mail address and log on to talk to females in their halters and undies; group chat where the customer pays $3.99 a minute and uses the keyboard to talk with performers nude (and most likely masturbating) who return the chatter via microphone and VIP chat, which is like group chat but strictly one-on-one, for $4.99 a minute. In both pay rooms, there's a "voyeur" option where you can watch what's going on in the room without the performer and customers knowing you're there, for a price per minute.
Webcam sites, though they sell sex, don't seem as weighty as, say, stripping or hooking probably because you don't have to physically interact with anyone. Many of the women working on them don't want to screw anyone and are usually "someone's girl next door," according to Mark Prince, CEO of LiveCamNetwork.com, based in Toronto and Montreal. Prince says these "girls" are between 18 and 28, aren't necessarily rail-thin or big-titted blond bombshells, but are "modest, cute, smart" people who are comfortable with their bodies and won't feel ashamed of having done this two weeks or 10 years from now.
And if you're really good at performing - either playing the slut next door or the too-good-to-be-true virtual girlfriend - you can easily make $200 for a few hours' work, I've discovered.
Still, it's a lot like telemarketing, because unless you work from a studio, the cash you make is based on commission only. It can be pretty nerve-racking sitting there waiting for people to take you into a pay chat room. You might even feel like you're desperately cruising at some shady singles bar after a while.
So am I ready to go on cam? Still undecided. Maybe the itch to take off my underroos for anyone in the privacy of my own apartment will soon go away. Then again, you might log on and see me smiling back, happy in the knowledge that I'll be able to pay my phone bill.